Despite obstacles created by the PKK and HDP, the government, along with the majority of Turkish people, support the current state of the reconciliation process. At this stage, disarming the PKK remains the key step to achieve peace
The Kurdish issue in Turkey has entered a critical stage. The political process, fiercely contested by the main opposition parties, has created a new climate of peace and reconciliation. Disarming the PKK without preconditions is key to settling this vexed problem.
The outlawed PKK, whose leader Abdullah Öcalan has been in jail since 1999, fought a bloody war against Turkey since 1984. The war, supported by various actors to destabilize Turkey and shape national politics, claimed the lives of 40,000 people, wounded thousands and cost the country billions of dollars. While exposing the failed policies of denial, assimilation and collective punishment over the years, it has also created a psychological wall of separation between Turks and Kurds on the one hand, and Kurds and the Turkish state on the other. Since the mid-1980s, successive governments have defined the problem in terms of state security but failed to eliminate the threat of terrorism. The result has been bloody fighting, economic destruction and deep social and psychological trauma.
A paradigm shift has taken place since 2005 when President Erdoğan, then prime minister, became the highest official to acknowledge the "Kurdish problem" in a major speech in Diyarbakır, considered to be the symbolic center of Kurdish politics. Erdoğan's statement focused on three main issues at the time: economic justice, identity-related grievances and security. They remain the key components of what is now called the "solution process."
A lot has been done to bridge the socio-economic gap between the east and west of the country. Billions of dollars have been invested in infrastructure, agriculture, transportation and education in the Kurdish- populated areas. New roads, airports and universities have allowed a greater degree of social mobility for citizens. Like other citizens, the Kurds living in such big and affluent cities as Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Antalya and Bursa have benefitted from Turkey's economic rise without any discrimination.
Major progress has been made in regards to the acceptance of Kurdishness as part of Turkey's tapestry of multiple ethnic identities. It is no longer a social or political anathema to identify oneself as a Kurd – a process of social transformation that has allowed also others to freely identify themselves as Arab, Roma, Armenian, Greek or Alevi. The new map of Turkey's social imagination allows greater acceptance and inclusiveness across religious and ethnic identities.
Over the last decade, we have seen the lifting of restrictions on the use of Kurdish language in media, political campaigns, public speeches, books and magazines, social media, courts, prisons, schools and government offices. Optional Kurdish language courses have been introduced in schools. Religious scholars and imams give sermons in Kurdish. TV-Kurdi, a state TV channel, broadcasts in Kurdish 24/7. Turkish and Kurdish artists perform together, overcoming imaginary barriers. The Turkish political space has been expanded to all including Kurdish politicians in the ruling AK Party, CHP, HDP and independents.
This paradigmatic shift has had a positive impact on Turkey's self-perception in the 21st century. Decades of misplaced statism, petty nationalism and societal antagonism are now questioned and rejected by the vast majority of Turkish society. While seeking to settle the Kurdish issue, Turkey is rebuilding her modern identity as a nation of multiple ethnic and religious communities.
These socio-economic and democratic measures have already achieved much in a short period of time: a radical drop in terrorist attacks, comprehensive political talks, passing of legislation that protects the settlement process, major economic investments and, most importantly, the overall support of the public for resolving the Kurdish issue.
The issue of security and the disarmament, however, remains the most critical threshold. So far, the PKK has refused to disarm. Two years ago, on March 21, 2013, Öcalan called on the PKK to end its armed struggle and enter what he called the stage of "political struggle." The message was made clearer this year on Nevruz day again when Öcalan openly called for the PKK's "disarmament." Instead of ending armed struggle once and for all, the PKK is dragging its feet while its political representatives in the HDP are making up excuses. Not too long ago, on Oct. 6-8, 2014, the PKK-HDP groups caused mayhem and terror across the country by manipulating the developments in Kobani/Ayn al-Arab, Syria. As we get closer to the June 7 elections, the PKK/HDP alliance continues to use tactics of threat and intimidation in the rural areas of the eastern regions.
The PKK and its outdated Marxist-Leninist ideology combined with a belated nationalism remains a major obstacle to resolving the Kurdish issue. The PKK/HDP camp presents its own political agenda as the demands of the Kurdish people. This false claim is part of a strategy to posit the PKK/HDP as the only representative of the Kurds of Turkey. This political manipulation will not bring peace, reconciliation, security and prosperity to anyone.
Despite the PKK's refusal to disarm and the HDP's political dependence on the PKK, the vast majority of the Turkish people support the current process to end violence and bring a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish issue. President Erdoğan, who is the architect of the process, and the Davutoğlu government are committed to it. At this stage, disarming the PKK remains the key step to achieve peace.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey